Adolf Hitler remained in the German Army after World War One ended in November 1918. Seething with anger at Germany’s defeat, Hitler was employed as a V-Man. Hitler’s job was to visit as many political organisations as possible to check out whether they were right wing, centre politics or left wing. In particular, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, both the government and army wanted to know who the socialists or communists were. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles only added to Hitler’s anger during this period in his life.
Hitler also worked within the Education Department of the army and his task here was to lecture returning soldiers on the dangers of communism, socialism and pacifism. Senior officers were impressed with Hitler’s skills as a speaker. It was at this time that the corporal, who was a loner, discovered his greatest talent – public oratory. The gas attack Hitler had suffered had affected his vocal chords and he spoke in a manner that few had heard before. Many who later heard Hitler speak at public rallies claimed that his voice had hypnotic qualities to it. In November 1922, Truman Smith, an American spy based in Germany, wrote:
|The most important political force in Bavaria at the present time is the National Socialist German Workers Party….Adolf Hitler…is the dominating force in the movement….his ability to influence a large audience is uncanny.|
Karl Ludecke, who published a book called “I knew Hitler”, wrote the following about the first time that he heard Hitler speak:
|Hitler was a slight, pale man with brown hair parted to one side. He had steel-blue eyes…he had the look of a fanatic….he held the audience, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction.|
What Hitler spoke about to the returning soldiers also hit home : the betrayal of the soldiers by politicians; the stab-in-the-back (of the soldiers) by the Jews; the failure of democratic politics and the disaster communism would be for Germany. His thoughts were widely held – but Hitler’s audience in 1918 to 1919 was very small and his impact was very little.
In September 1919, Hitler visited, as a V-Man, a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. The party name indicated that it had socialist leanings with its “workers'” tag. It was, in fact, an extreme, anti-Semitic, anti-communist, right wing nationalist party lead by Karl Drexler. At Hitler’s visit, it only had 40 members. Hitler informed the army that it posed no threat to Germany. After this visit, Hitler joined the party as it seemed to represent all that he believed in. He quickly became the party’s propaganda officer.
In early 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) which quickly got corrupted to ‘Nazi’ by both enemies and supporters alike. Hitler wrote out the party’s beliefs in the so-called 25 Point Party Programme. This party programme was a curious mixture – right wing nationalism; anti-capitalism; anti-socialism; anti-wealth etc.
This rag-bag mixture would have been laughable in normal circumstances but Germany was not in normal circumstances. The NSDAP played on the Germans hatred of the Treaty of Versailles (which it said it would ignore); the belief that Germany had been stabbed in the back. Even in its early days, the NSDAP tuned in to many peoples’ emotions. However, in 1920, the party was just one of many right wing parties that seemed to exist in Germany at this time.
In a 1920 leaflet, the NSDAP blamed 300 bankers and financiers throughout the world for dictating policy to the world and holding it to ransom.
|“Shake off your Jewish leaders…………Don’t expect anything from the Bolsheviks (the Russian Communists)…………(The Russian government) is nine-tenths Jewish. Bolshevism is a Jewish swindle.”|
This touched a raw nerve in some Germans. Former soldiers who had been in the Free Corps joined the Nazi Party and their ‘skills’ were used to break up meetings of other political parties. The use of violence became a way of life for the Nazis.
Regardless of this, the party made little headway in politics. It did benefit from one great advantage in Weimar Germany – the electoral system used proportional representation in deciding results. Any party that got more votes than the cut-off would get some seats in the Reichstag. This favoured the Nazis. They could not afford expensive election campaigns as Karl Ludecke related in his book “I knew Hitler”.
|“The organisation lived from day-to-day financially, with no treasury to draw on for lecture halls rents, printing costs, or the thousand-and-one expenses which threatened to swamp us. The only funds we could count on were small, merely a drop in the bucket.”|
Up to 1923, the Nazi Party was small and noisy. Its importance was mainly in the Munich area of Bavaria. Money, or lack of it, was always a problem. The 1923 hyperinflation crisis proved to be an opportunity too good to miss for the now party leader – Hitler.
Hyperinflation ruined the middle class. The poor had little and they lost most of the little they had. The rich lost a lot but as rich people they could keep their heads above water. The middle class did not have the cash reserves of the rich but they lead comfortable lives. These lives were now ruined by hyperinflation and they blamed the government.
Hitler planned to seize the most important city in the south – Munich – and to use the city as a base to launch an attack on the rest of Germany, hoping that the angered middle class would rise up in support of him throughout the nation.
The Beer Hall Putsch:
On November 8th, 1923, Hitler and 2000 Nazis marched through the streets of Munich to take over a meeting at the Munich Beer Hall. This meeting was being chaired by the three most important people in Bavarian politics – Hans Seisser, Otto von Lossow and Gustav von Kahr. Depending on whose account you read, Hitler strode to the front of the meeting and declared that when convenient von Kahr would be declared regent of Bavaria, the Berlin government would be tried as traitors, Seisser would be made head of Germany’s police…….but as the time was not convenient. He, Hitler, would take charge of the country. He stated that on the following day, the Nazis would march on the War Ministry and set up government there.
On the 9th November, the Nazis started on their march only to be met by armed police. What happened next varies. When the police fired on the leading marchers, the official Nazi biography of Hitler published in 1934 stated that he saved the life of the man next to him who had been shot.
Another unofficial version – by Rudolf Olden – claims that on the first shot Hitler ran away to a waiting car to be driven to the Bavarian mountains and safety. He would not have known that 13 Nazis had been shot dead by the police.
Regardless of what happened and what Hitler did, the march was a disaster for the Nazis and could have easily spelt the end of the Nazi Party. Ironically, the Beer Hall Putsch was to launch Hitler into national fame. He was arrested for treason and put on trial. This trial was to make Hitler famous within Germany and may well have saved the Nazi Party from collapse.
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